I was sitting in my little apartment with my roommate last night when she made a phone call home. It was a call to check up on her family, who are situated in San Jose, Calif., one of the major cities affected by the wildfires. She told me she was glad to be back on campus — even if it meant quarantining in a tiny apartment complex — because she finally felt safe. Her and her family were holding their breath for days to see if they would need to be evacuated from their home.
I told her she was lucky to have been away from the thick of it all. And while things didn’t get bad until recently, she confessed to me, “Things were going downhill fast even before I left.” She told me the air quality had been horrible for weeks now. It was difficult for her to do anything outdoors with all the smoke and ash. “Walking to the grocery store in the fresh air is a luxury,” she said. I had never before considered that something to be remotely grateful for. It seemed fundamentally backwards to appreciate something as inherently natural as, well, the air. Yet, millions of people along the West Coast have gone weeks now without clean air.
According to the California state government, just over “16,750 firefighters continue working on the containment of the 29 major wildfires across California”. New fires are created everyday, making them increasingly difficult to confine. And worse yet, we are moving into what my roommate delicately calls, “fire season.” It spans the months of September and October, when drier weather conditions allow for an increasingly rapid spread of wildfires. That being said, we might only be getting started here. A scary thought, for sure, especially considering the damage done already. Since Aug. 15, the initial elevation of fire activity, “there have been 22 fatalities and over 4,100 structures destroyed”. At this juncture, over 3 million acres have burned. The fires have been spreading to Oregon and Washington as well. The “blazes in southern Oregon have already consumed more than one million acres and forced tens of thousands of people out of their homes, in addition to the record-setting 3.1 million acres burned in California, and more than 600,000 acres burned in Washington State”. The air pollution has reached tremendous and terrifying highs in these areas. The Senator of Oregon called it “apocalyptic”. The skies have turned a dark orange, looking something like the rapture. And while all this is happening, Trump has doubled down on the idea that climate change is a myth.
This directly counters what research concluded two years ago that “greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels could effectively triple the frequency of severe fires across western states”. But sadly, this very real truth does not support our highly capitalist economy. Big businesses do not care about fossil fuel emissions, or rather, they do not care to stop them. These companies are built on cheap mass production, which would not exist without an immensity of fossil fuels being burnt regularly. Politicians like Trump are often backed by the big businesses creating these emissions. They essentially help each other to stay powerful. These companies will help politicians into office with very generous donations, and the politicians, in turn, will sign policies that support the production involved in these businesses. Unfortunately, because of this, information often gets skewed, and many are misinformed.
Most people do not even realize the wildfires are a symptom of climate change. Many of us on the East Coast are breathing easy without a thought, while the skies across the west grow darker. It might as well be a different world over there. But we should care. Those fires, though out of sight, are another reminder that we should care about global warming. Our world is under siege, and though it may be someone else’s home now, it could soon be yours.